Perspectives

Prophet Muhammad: Bilal, one of Islam’s first converts, would enter paradise before him

By Jehron Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: May 17, 2017 - 1:18:21 PM

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Cover for book about Bilal al-Habashi, a companion of Prophet Muhammad.
‘The history of why the very dark skinned former slave of Abyssinian (Ethiopian) ancestry was chosen—along with Usama, the son of freed slave Zayd ibn Harith—to enter the Ka’ba over other companions that were present is told in a new book, “Bilal al-Habashi: An Exemplar of Patience and Devotion.” ’
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had to evolve the Arabs from tribalism into a Nation, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan told a capacity audience in 2006 during his visit to Dawah College of the World Islamic Call Society in Tripoli, Libya. The Minister made the remark while referencing Bilal, an Ethiopian and a faithful companion of the Prophet.

“When the Prophet met Bilal, a Black man from Ethiopia, the seed of racism was in Arabia and Prophet Muhammad had to raise the Arabs from a disrespect of Black people who were living in Arabia,” Min. Farrakhan said.

The history of why the very dark skinned former slave of Abyssinian (Ethiopian) ancestry was chosen—along with Usama, the son of freed slave Zayd ibn Harith—to enter the Ka’ba over other companions that were present is told in a new book, “Bilal al-Habashi: An Exemplar of Patience and Devotion.”

The defining moment, Islam’s most hallowed, came after the Muslim forces in 630 A.D. had captured Mecca, when Bilal al-Habashi (also known as Bilal ibn Rabah) ascended the top of the Ka’ba—Islam’s most sacred shrine—to call the faithful to prayer.

“Amidst the curious glances of those (mostly Arabs) who were present, on one side (of the Prophet) Bilal and on the other, Usama … Allah’s Messenger closed the gate (to the Ka’ba) behind him,” the author writes.

The Prophet did this act “to show the Meccans that all human beings were valuable, irrespective of their race, color and social status … that nobody had any superiority over another except by piety and righteousness.”

But racism and classism, though frowned upon and warned against, continued.

“The Arabs, who placed great importance on lineage and ancestry, were not easily able to free themselves of this. This was reflected in their human relations, marriage and social life,” the book says. During one occasion, while sitting near the Ka’ba, Harith ibn Hisham, expressing his utter contempt for Bilal being given the position of Islam’s first caller of the Believers to prayer, angrily said, “Could not (Prophet) Muhammad find someone other than this Black crow to be the muezzin?”

Racism also followed Bilal into his first marriage. A few members of the Banu Bukayr clan came to visit the Prophet with an appeal for him to find their daughter a suitable spouse. On two separate occasions the Prophet recommended to them Bilal as a worthy husband. Each time they left the Prophet’s presence without answering him. Even though the daughter agreed with the Prophet’s recommendation, the family did not want their daughter to marry a freed slave. During the third visit, Prophet Muhammad, commenting on the sublime moral character of Bilal, asked, “Where do you stand in relation to a man who is one of the people of Paradise?” This time they relented and agreed to give their daughter in marriage to Bilal.

Prophet Muhammad reverenced Bilal, saying that he “heard the sound of your footsteps” entering “paradise” even before his.

This is due to Bilal’s unequaled commitment to the faith. Not only was he Islam’s first muezzin (caller to prayer) and Prophet Muhammad’s one and only treasurer (he handled all the Prophet’s financial affairs until the Prophet’s death), but the circumstances under which the nearly 40-year-old slave came to Islam were unprecedented.

Bilal was one of the first to join Islam. Tortured in every way imaginable almost till death over an extended period of time, his tormenters not only wanted him to renounce his new-found faith, they “wanted to torture Bilal in such a way as would be spoken of far and wide” and stop others from joining onto this new way of life.

Others being subjected by the Meccans “to the most excruciating of torture,” said, “They would make all of us say what they wanted us to say, even if just with our tongue and not our heart. Only Bilal would not do so. They could not make him say anything he himself did not want to say.”

Bilal’s constant refrain on being told to renounce his belief and revert back to the idol worship of his slave masters was “Ahad!” or “Allah is one!” He said to his tormenters, “Had I known any other words, I could not have borne this much torture and would surely have uttered it. My Lord is Allah. He is One. No matter what you do, my tongue will say nothing else.”

Long after the death of the Prophet, a group of nobles showed offense that a group of former slaves, including Bilal, were given an audience with Umar bin al-Khattab, Islam’s second caliph, before them. Caliph Umar reprimanded them, saying, “By Allah, the virtue and excellence they have attained through the sacrifices they made in the way of Islam before you far outweigh the honor and virtue you now speak of. They surpass you in virtue and theirs is a degree you can never attain. Better to accept it.”

Bilal’s sublime character and being a former slave were reasons enough for the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s son, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, to call the Black Muslim community in the U.S. “Bilalians.”

The Imam once said, “Just as Bilal stood on top of the Ka’ba and called the faithful to prayer, “It is the prophetic destiny (of Black Muslim America) to call all of humanity back from the seeds of destruction to the straight path of the true worship of God.”

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